It’s been 35 years since the New York Yankees played in the nation’s capital.
The Yankees hope to take advantage of a slumping Washington team when they open a three-game series with the Nationals on Friday at RFK Stadium.
The Yankees last played at RFK on Sept. 30, 1971, and won in a forfeit when fans stormed the field in the Washington Senators’ last game before moving to Texas. Washington led 7-5, but New York was awarded a 9-0 win.
Washington was also the site of a Mickey Mantle home run at Griffith Stadium in 1953 that traveled an estimated 565 feet—considered by some to be the longest home run ever hit.
Despite Washington’s history with the Yankees, Nationals manager Frank Robinson isn’t placing any added importance on this series.
“Why would it be a big deal to manage against the Yankees?” he said.
Of more pressing concern to Robinson is his team being swept in a four-game set by Colorado. The manager held a closed-door meeting with the club after Thursday’s 8-1 loss to Rockies, a defeat that dropped the Nationals to 30-38. Washington came into the series on a season-best 17-7 roll.
“The message was: We worked very hard for 3 1/2 weeks to get ourselves straightened out … and in four days, we fell right back into that hole,” Robinson said.
The Nationals, who fell a season-worst 13 1/2 games out of first in the NL East, had not been swept in four games since April 26-29, 2004 by San Diego when the franchise was still in Montreal. They were outscored 35-14 in the Rockies series.
Washington fired first-year bullpen coach John Wetteland after the game because of what Robinson said were “philosophy differences.”
The Yankees (37-27) lost for the fifth time in seven games Thursday, 8-4 to Cleveland. Melky Cabrera hit his first career home run, and Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams also connected for New York, which did manage to win the series against the Indians after being swept over the weekend by Oakland.
Rodriguez also struck out twice, the second time in the eighth inning with the tying runs on second and third. He has three hits in his last 20 at-bats, dropping his average to .277.
“Whatever you want to say, the way I’m going now, you’d probably be right,” Rodriguez said. “Go ahead and rip away.”
Johnson was suspended five games and also fined, but is expected to appeal.
Jaret Wright (3-4, 4.44 ERA) will take the mound for New York in the opener. He allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings of a 9-3 loss to Curt Schilling and the Boston Red Sox on June 8. Wright has not lasted more than six innings in any of his nine starts this season.
Wright has pitched well against the Nationals franchise, going 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in seven appearances, including three starts, against the team.
Washington will counter with right-hander Shawn Hill (1-1, 1.80), who allowed just two hits in seven innings of Sunday’s 6-0 win over Philadelphia. The victory was his first since July 4, 2004, when he earned his only other major league victory in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Hill, making his fourth start of the season, did not pitch last year after undergoing ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery in September 2004.
“Coming off the rehab, I had to go through some hurdles there,” said Hill, who has never faced the Yankees. “You learn to calm yourself down, compose yourself to get through one hitter at a time instead of jumping ahead.”